A Question of Sport

Everywhere you turn at the moment there is sport. With the World Cup, Wimbledon, the Young Life Cricket match and now the Tour de France all coinciding it is a bumper summer for sports fans, even if so far it has not been the most successful for the British supporters (although I’m hoping Cavindesh might just be yellow when you read this, despite it being a big ask.) For those into sport it is a wonderful year, but for those who aren’t fans, it is hard to know where to turn.
To listen to ardent fans talk about their team or sport, you’d think sometimes that they’re talking about the most important thing in the world. Passions rise, debate flows and the love of their team is matched only by the hatred of the opposition. Incidents in the game, become frontpage headlines and are discussed outside all proportion (how many hours are devoted to talking about recent misdemeanours compared to matters of real importance around the world?) Bill Shankley, former Liverpool  football club manager, once summed this up in his reply when someone once said, ‘To you football is a matter of life or death!’ Famed for his one liners, Shankley came back with the quick and now famous retort, ‘Listen, it’s more important than that’.
Clearly sport is not more important than life or death issues despite what the relative column lines devoted to sport and other news issues might suggest and so why does it captivate us so much? Is it something that we as Christians should value and be involved in?
To answer those questions backwards, I’d say the answer to the second is yes. Yes because it is important to our culture, and as Paul says, ‘I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.’ (1 Cor. 9:22) To relate to those around us we have to be able to relate to what they’re interested in. For many that includes sport. I’d also say yes because sport is a great way of keeping fit, and looking after the bodies and minds that God has given us. Finally I’d say yes because it’s fun. There is more to life than just serious issues, Jesus came to give us life and life to the full (John 10:10). It is good and alright to enjoy ourselves!
But what is it about sport that means it engages people as much as it does? There are many parts to the answer I’m sure, but I suspect part of it is because sport reflects something of the creative and communal nature of the God whose image we’re made in. Our striving to give of our best and win reflects the way God always gives his best for us.
Church newsletter article 06.07.14


We live in a world of abbreviations and acronyms. Every walk of life has them. In business they are rife. Alas, being a non-business man I have no idea what they mean! Schools have them by the bucket load too. There are SEFs, SIPs, JARVs, GCSEs and the dreaded OFSTED. I sometimes wonder if you need a BSc or BEd or even a BA to understand these.

Of course the world of SMS msgs (mobile phone text messages) and Twitter has encouraged the use of acronyms in an attempt to communicate as much as possible in a few letters as possible. Here’s a test, do you know what TTFN, LOL & TOY stand for?*

I suspect the church uses such abbreviations too. We certainly have more than our fair share of jargon, although I imagine that we are so used to it that we don’t even recognise it as that anymore. thinking on from our church meeting on Wednesday when we started a discussion about how we can be a more welcoming church, perhaps it would be helpful to think about the language we use and either cut out jargon or remember to explain it so that those who are unfamiliar with it are included rather than excluded.

Sport has it’s own set of acronyms. One that came up a lot this week was TDD. In fact a lot of people got rather too excited about TDD. What does it mean? Transfer Deadline Day, the day when the transfer window when players can be bought and sold closes. On TDD speculation and anticipation can sometimes hit fever pitch as pundits, professional and armchair, try and guess what last minute deals will be made, often it would seem involving Harry Redknapp.

What does TDD have to do with the church? Here’s a cracking example of church jargon from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

‘…do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? …And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’

What does this mean? Here Paul is trying to say that we have been through our own transfer window. It’s a bit like saying we were once playing for a club that were not up to winning the Premiership, but we have been bought by a side that are a dead cert to win. Because of our flawed humanity we were unable to gain a place in God’s kingdom, but now Jesus through his love and life has placed an offer for us, which if we accept, will propel us into the winning team and a place in God’s kingdom. Our challenge is to seek with God’s help to live in a style worthy of the club we now play for.

(* TTFN = ta ta for now, LOL = laughs out loud & TOY = thinking of you)

The Return of the King

King Kenny
King Kenny

A week ago the news was released that Roy Hodgson had stood down as manager and Kenny Daglish had agreed to take on the job as a caretaker manager until the end of the season. Kenny Daglish, ‘King Kenny’ as he is known to many LFC fans is one of Liverpool’s greatest both as player and manager. His Liverpool record ended with: 515 appearances, 172 goals, 307 as manager, 8 League Championships, 2 FA Cup wins, 3 European Cup wins, 4 League Cup wins, 1 European Super Cup win, and 5 Charity Shield wins.  Of course there is always the question of what European success they might have known under him with English clubs banned at that time.

Kenny’s reign ended in 1991. The main reason was the stress caused by the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989, a crush during a cup-tie between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest resulting in 96 fans dying. He left mid season, and ever since there has been the feeling that there was unfinished business…

Wind forward to January 2011. The reception of the king’s return is rapturous, even if the club have lost its first two matches with him at the helm and it is a pale reflection of the club he left. The sense of joy and excitement is tangible amongst players, fans and commentators alike.

This week at house-group we spent time discussing Mark 1 following David’s great sermon last Sunday. What a chapter this is! The more we looked at it, the more we learnt about who Jesus was and what he came to do. There is much about his identity as King, Christ and Saviour, and the radical nature of the Kingdom he came to declare, demonstrating it with compassion, authoritative teaching and healing. One thing that struck us, alongside his greatness, was the way that the people responded to him. Everywhere he went the crowds gathered, people clamouring to see him, to touch him, to hear him, all wanting to be part of the miraculous events that were unfolding.

Of course Jesus’ reign seemed to end in tragedy, with the Cross. The resurrection followed, giving hope of more to come, but his ascension left unfinished business, a world still in need of renewal. One day our King will return to his throne, in the meantime we are called to press on with the preparations, and work towards that glorious day with eager anticipation. The joy then will make that of LFC fans seem pale in comparison!

Church Newsletter Article for Sunday 16th January

Under New Ownership

It’s been a nightmare season for my football team Liverpool (now obviously it’s not my team, but in common with many footie fans I feel having invested many hours and much emotion in following them that in same way I do have some sense of ownership). It has been many years since ‘Liverpool Football Club’ and relegation have been heard in the same sentence, but with lacklustre performances, change in manager, and our star striker struggling with fitness and form they have formed an unexpected coupling at the moment. Rightly or wrongly, many have looked behind the scenes for to blame, pointing the finger at the clubs American owners, who they say have saddled the club with debt and so stifled the chances for it to develop and compete with the best.

As I write this, the news is filtering through that subject to a last minute legal battle, LFC have been sold to new owners, the debt cleared and the path for renewed success hopefully cleared – a little at least. Perhaps at last the Club can get back to worrying not about the future of the institution, but focus on playing exciting competitive football once again.

Why do I write about LFC in a church newsletter? Because there are similarities between their situation and ours. The Bible tells us that by becoming followers of Jesus we have undergone a change of owners. We are no longer saddled with the debt of sin or death but have been freed to live a life of life and hope in God’s Kingdom. What is key for LFC right now is for the players to leave behind their current form, and to look forwards and beginning playing like the stars that they are, looking to the new owners and manager, not backwards to fear and uncertainty. So it is with us. It is not enough to simply switch allegiance to Jesus, but to follow, to life our lives in response to what Jesus has revealed to us, to follow where he goes.  Paul makes the same point in the book of Romans when he writes,

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:1-2) 

Let us let our new owner shape us by his Spirit, and let that shaping become deeply ingrained in our lives as we put it into practise.

Church Newsletter article for Sunday 10th October 2010